From vanity license plates and personalized vinyl graphics to all the moving parts in between, 5 Cobb students recently drove off in cars customized just for them by students at East Cobb Middle School.
The modified ride-on cars are products of the East Cobb Middle School Go Baby Go Club, which started customizing the new vehicles last spring. Go Baby Go is a national, community-based research, design, and outreach program that provides modified ride-on cars to children who experience limited mobility.
“Kids with physical disabilities often experience play differently due to access issues. This impacts their ability to participate in activities with their peers and friends. Modifying these cars for each kid’s specific needs allows them to have a fun toy they can use in their neighborhood with other kids, whereas before, they just had to sit on the sidelines and watch. They can now be ACTIVE participants instead of passive participants,” explained Dr. Jennifer Tumlin Garrett, a Cobb Schools Orthopedic Impairments Itinerant teacher.
The East Cobb Go Baby Go Club started when teachers Shannon Ventresca and Danielle Crabbe and a former school employee pitched the idea during Cobb Tank, an annual grant competition supporting innovation in Cobb Schools. Cobb Tank awarded the educators $5,000 to start the club and deliver at least six cars. The teachers planned to deliver three cars one year and three cars the following year. They topped their goal and have been able to buy eight cars. They handed over the keys to the first 5 in August.
Dr. Garrett’s daughter, an East Cobb student, tipped her mom off to how her teachers and fellow students planned to modify ride-on cars for the students in need. Like the Cobb Tank judges, Dr. Garrett loved the idea and collaborated with her colleagues to find the kids in need and assess what modifications they would need in a new car.
The East Cobb students used that information to build the cars, individualizing them based on each student’s needs and likes. Beyond the aesthetics of the vehicles, the East Cobb students added switches, joysticks, safety harnesses, and extra supports using PVC pipes and pool noodles on the new rides. The team of students includes Abdul-Aziz Abaza, Shainne Balabuch, Sadie Culberson, Miguel Garcia, Sofia Letts, Brooklyn King, and Isaac Trzecieski. East Cobb ISS paraprofessional Anthony Ventresca got the engines running. He reprogrammed, rewired, and managed the engineering portion for the Go Baby Go team.
Thanks to the East Cobb students and educators, the custom new wheels went to 5 students who attended one of the following schools last year: Tritt Elementary School, Murdock Elementary School, South Cobb Early Learning Center, Vaughan Elementary School, and Kemp Elementary School.
The smiles on the faces of the young drivers and squeals of excitement spoke to the students’ gratitude for their new wheels, a gratitude that did not fade as they drove away. Evan, one of the new car owners, insisted the car should be in his room the first night. As he fell asleep, he said, “Goodnight, car. I love you, car.”
One family surprised their son, who had no idea he was getting new wheels until he arrived at East Cobb to pick up his customized car. Multiple generations came to see the surprise. They were all there to watch him test drive the vehicle, navigating the joystick with his chin, doing donuts, and going up and down the ramps between the parking lot and the sidewalks.
That type of impact drove Shainne to sign up for the East Cobb club.
“The reason I chose to join Go Baby Go is because we are helping people, and they work hard to make people’s lives better. Go Baby Go is also a family, and I want to be a part of that family,” the 7th grader said.
The East Cobb Go Baby Go Club does not plan to put the brakes on building more cars. They have three more cars and many more parts and plan to fundraise and enter more grant competitions. The club also has an account at the middle school to accept donations, as well as a Walmart registry with more cars that people can help purchase.
“We want to keep this program going forward to bring as many kids with limited mobility a Go Baby Go set of wheels and the freedom that comes with it,” Ms. Ventresca declared.